Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nonsense about Interface21

Rod Johnson, a man I respect and admire, has managed to step on one of my hot buttons. He's put up a new blog entry that reiterates his earlier complaint against other companies that offer support or services for Spring. While I agree with some of them, his brush is far too broad for the truth.

Before I start, full disclosure: I work for SourceLabs, a company that offers 24/7 enterprise-level support for Spring as part of a fully integrated and certified Java enterprise software stack. I'm proud of our products and how we've helped our customers.

Rod starts off with this:

OpenLogic needs to understand that the opening comment in Stormy's post that "Developers that work on open source software typically have day jobs that pay pretty well…so they work on open source software for free and write code during the day for big bucks" is largely wrong, understand where the open source software they hope to profit from comes from, partner appropriately, and set a price point that allows for genuine support. An alternative would be to stop claiming to provide enterprise support, and be clear that what is being offered is a kind of on-call development assistance, with no guarantee of being able to resolve critical issues.
Actually, Stormy's not largely wrong. Companies who sponsor open source by hiring its developers are neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for a successful project. The obvious example is Linux, which rapidly evolved into a stable and usable kernel long before the words Red Hat or SUSE entered the conversation. Back then, all Linux developers were far-flung, spare-time volunteers who didn't receive a dime for their work. When the first Linux companies decided to try offering support, there wasn't a "Linux21" company headed by Linus they could negotiate with, and Linus never claimed that he was the way, the truth and the life of Linux support.

Jesus may have said that no one comes to the Father without coming through me, but Linus explicitly disavowed control of the Linux community at a very early stage. He maintains his position through the universal respect of his judgment and that he has demonstrated that he is beholden to no one. Whether he succeeds or fails, he tries to do the best thing for Linux, not whatever company he's working for. Red Hat's Linux support is not somehow delegitimized for lacking an explicit Linus Stamp Of Approval, and neither is Canonical's, Novell's, SUSE's, etc. Plus, aren't those companies making money just fine, and isn't the competition between them good for all Linux users, individual and corporate? One might also mention XenSource, who never claimed to be the only legitimate source of Xen support, and yet recently sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. There are tons of consultants who are expert in Ant, Maven, Zimbra, JSF, etc., who may compete for contracts, but none of them can seriously claim to be the only legitimate option over the others.

Rod claims that dependable support requires committer access to the source code. This must come as a surprise to all the non-engineers employed by every other support company in the world. Someone has to do the sales and run the business and fix the servers and keep the website updated and find new customers, etc., etc. Committer access doesn't get you any of these, and who's going to tell me they're not required for a successful support company?

Good support means that you have a personal relationship with your customer. You know what they need, what other software they're using, what they're most concerned about, and you establish a bond of trust with them that you will be there for them. That goes way beyond giving them a pager number and saying, "Call me if it breaks".

Despite what Rod would have you believe, I (or anybody else) can offer top-quality Spring support thanks to the ASF license Spring uses. You don't need to be a Spring committer to fix bugs in it, and you don't need Interface21's permission or endorsement to use it. If there's a bug that impacts your production server, I can find it in the code myself, talk to the customer, and figure out what the best solution is: patch, workaround, client code change, etc. I can do that because I have access to the source code that matters -- the one the customer is using -- and because I understand, through careful and tedious preparation, what the customer needs.

Moving on, we next have this:
It may seem strange to you, but it's normal for individuals and companies to want a return on investing millions of dollars, passion, blood sweat and tears in something. Interface21 sustains and develops Spring and we do a good job. I think it's perfectly reasonable to expect that we can leverage this investment into an advantage in the support market.
Sure, Rod. You want to sell support for Spring, be my guest. Play up every advantage you can in the market, but it is a market. If you want to argue that control over committers makes you the best support option, go ahead, but as I said above, it's a pretty weak argument.
Authors and thousands of these developers contribute to the success of the project and community through their evangelism. That's an important way of contributing. OpenLogic does not; it merely aims to make money from projects that others have built, evangelized and conveniently maintain and enhance. Now that's a "sweat deal".
OpenLogic may not contribute to the projects they use, but at SourceLabs we do. Our credibility as an open source company depends on it. I'm a committer on the Apache Commons project. We have people in house who have committer access on Struts, Hibernate, and Maven, and we're also involved daily in Tomcat, Axis, and other projects. We have brought Spring into companies because we like working with it, thus increasing mindshare and support for Spring without anyone at Interface21 knowing anything about it or lifting one finger.

No one at Interface21 can seriously claim to be actively engaged with the other pieces of a full Java enterprise stack; Spring, for all its awesomeness, is a framework, not a stack. It doesn't provide everything an enterprise customer needs, and supporting only Spring is not going to cut it with companies who also need help with Hibernate or Struts. In fact, Rod has to say that if you do need help with the other parts of your Java solution, Interface21 can't help you since they don't control the source code of those projects.

It's true that aggregation in and of itself is not worth much. But neither is control of the code. Open source allows everyone to compete on a level ground in whatever arena seems valuable enough to conquer. I hope Interface21 isn't just afraid of a little competition from companies who understand that doing support right is much more complex than having an SVN account.

One final point for Rod: why did you open source Spring at all? If you're so convinced that no one else can offer credible support for it, why not just make it proprietary?


Anonymous said...

Amen! Funny that Rod's concern about getting his Return On Investment kind of goes against the grain of the truth of Open Source and everyone benefit from global collaboration. Beautifully and thoughtfully commmented

Anonymous said...

Well written!

all because of the evil money-:)

Eelco Hillenius said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Big money and taking him/her self too seriously destroyed way too many people - when are we going to learn.
It would be nice if an ice cold shower and a trip to a local hospital, where people die every minute, was one of the requirement for people making big bucks - just to put things in perspective and doubt themselfs even for a second(may be I'm full of it?)
I do love Spring, but the evolution of Rod, is very sad....

Anonymous said...

Well said, you are my hero.!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting read. Having seen the introduction of Spring by consultants endorsed by Interface21 it strikes me how unable they are to see the world outside Spring. The word 'religion' leaps to mind and it's supposed non-intrusiveness is not something that is very apparent.

What I guess there should be a market for is consultants NOT tightly integrated with The Solution To Everything: Our Product. Consultants able (and willing) to throw out Product X if it doesn't fit.

Ben said...

I think that, to this point, i21 consultants haven't been shortsighted so much as they have been True Believers. Spring was absolutely a better, more Java-ish, and easier to use solution than the Sun crap, but neither of those are necessarily true anymore.

I see signs from SpringSource that they're turning inward more and developing more of a bunker mentality. I don't think that's a good thing for them or Spring, and I hope that I'm misinterpreting it.

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Charles said...

I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.
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